Now that’s how you defend a state title. You start out strong, hit your stride and crush the finish – simple, enough.
The Pioneer girls’ cross country team made it look simple but being that good (great) requires dedication, hard work, excellent coaching and a course full of talent. Check. Check. Check. Check.
On Aug. 28, the Pioneers walked to the starting line to begin defense of their state championship at the Pete Moss Benzie Invitational. They finished first at that first meet and won every race they lined up for during the 2021 season including Saturday’s MHSAA Division 1 State Final at Michigan International Speedway.
There was little doubt the Pioneers would win their third straight state title, not with the loaded lineup back from last season’s title team. After finishing second in 2016 and 2018, Pioneer won a state title in 2019 and followed it up with last year’s title run.
They hit the starting line on a sunny Saturday afternoon at MIS and delivered what was expected. Pioneer grabbed three of the top 12 spots and five of the top 45 to finish with 68 points. Holland West Ottawa was a distant second with 100 points while Traverse City Central was third (183), Northville fourth (197) and Saline fifth (201).
Skyline placed 14th out 28 teams with 397 points.
It started, as it usually does, at the top for Pioneer. Rachel Forsyth, who finished second last year in the split race, took first place with a Division 1 record time for a sophomore of 17 minutes, 09.32 seconds. She was all alone by the time she reached the finish line – TC Central senior Julia Flynn was second in 17:20.49.
Arianne Olson of Holland West Ottawa was third (17:36.81) and Bedford’s sensational senior Madison Foster was fourth (17:41.00).
Pioneer senior Sarah Forsyth, Rachel’s older sister, capped off a fantastic high school career with an eighth-place finish time of 18:02.86. Sarah, who missed a good portion of her junior year because of injury, finished strong with her top-10 showing and will attend Michigan State in the fall.
She finished a few steps ahead of hard-charging Lisa Luecke of Allen Park, who placed ninth in 18:03.44. Northville’s Jennie Line was 10th (18:11.84) and Holly’s Ashley Sobczynski was 11th (18:16.47).
Another Pioneer senior who finished strong was Cookie Baugh, who crossed in 12th place with a time of 18:16.55.
Emily Cooper, who had a brilliant junior season for the Pioneers, was 35th with a time of 18:44.39. Speaking of brilliant, sophomore Natalie Mello saved her best for last, crushing her PR with a time of 18:54.67 to finish 45th.
Senior Charlotte Batra ran a 19:07.09 to run 59th place and sophomore Katie Hume went 20:09.64 and finished 159th.
Skyline headed to MIS after a strong showing in Regionals where the Eagles landed in second place at Hudson Mills. The Eagles lined up on Saturday without a senior in the lineup and didn’t let youth stand in their way of success.
Junior Caroline Vance was 56th (19:03.54), sophomore Allison Mayer was 68th (19:13.87), junior Natalie Kessler was 89th (19:26.90), freshman Ayla Balazer was 186th (20:28.55), junior Annalisa DeGuzman was 203rd (20:45.13), junior Lydia Cocciolone was 235th (21:13.10) and sophomore Celia Begosso was 240th (21:18.83).
Huron’s Lucinda Paliani made her first appearance at the state finals and was outstanding on the challenging course. The freshman ran a time of 19:12.54 and placed 63rd in the state.